Ulrich Lask: Sucht+Ordnung (ECM 1268)

 

Ulrich Lask
Lask 2: Sucht+Ordnung

Ulrich Lask alto and tenor saxophones, computer programming
Meinolf Bauschulte drums, electronic percussion
Maggie Nicols
Sigrid Meyer narration
Monika Linges narration
Recorded January 1984 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Ulrich P. Lask and Meinolf Bauschulte

I must confess to having a soft spot for Mr. Ulrich P. Lask, whose brief flirtations with ECM have been forgotten under a pile of subsequent beauties. This whimsical little oddity continues where his initial outlier dropped off a flat earth. In such a post-apocalyptic Elliot Sharp-like sound-world, Lask and company can only retrace the urban nightmare that so haunted the waking life of its predecessor. Yet where Lask the first benefited from the boggling virtuosity of vocalist Maggie Nicols, Lask the second suffers from too little of it. What we get instead is a lighter, more capricious chain of German narration over spiky soundtracks. Morphological anxieties still run rampant, as in “Mamamerika,” and Lask’s reed work cuts intriguing enough chains of deformed handholding figures from the pessimistic shadows of “Erfolgreich Und Beliebt,” as it does in all the instrumentals, but only when Nicols rises from the primordial soup of “Ordnung” does the album hit its stride. Like some spastic, panting experiment, breath and electronics make for glowing concoctions from hereon out. The freestyle sparring of “None The Wiser” and gritting teeth of “Kleine Narkosen” are standouts, as are the vocal vampirism and deft arrangement of “Sigi Sigi.” And even as ghostly lips nip at our backs, after this puree of angst and ennui we finish with a taste of hope in “Sucht.”

Lask 2 is worth listening to at least once and is yet another example of a recording that breaks the mold into which ECM criticism is so often poured. Like the voice in “Freie Mädchen Arbeiten Im Hafen” that laughs at her own aplomb, this head-scratching detour on the label’s quest for silence spits in its own face, so that any insult you might throw its way will have to contend with a sheen of self-derision. Worth finding if your face prefers to wear a smile.

Ulrich Lask: Lask (ECM 1217)

 

Ulrich Lask
Lask

Ulrich Lask alto saxophone, synthesizer
Meinolf Bauschulte drums
Maggie Nicols voice
Recorded November 1981 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland

“Not many people see the wisdom in madness.”

Take a little Mr. Bungle, mix in some Elliot Sharp, add a dash of Claudia Phillips, and you may just get something akin to this strikingly outlandish rarity from 1982. The voice of Maggie Nicols is the solder that holds everything together, while Ulrich Lask’s laser-like sax and labored synth weave an industrial spell at every turn of the set’s assembly line. The bubbly electronics of “Drain Brain” spray-paint the malaise of a post-punk modernity, where duties and obligations engage one another in a rather debilitating tango with the children’s rhyme “Rain, rain, go away.” Our core confrontations are laid out on the dissecting table of the “Tattooed Lady,” whose multiphonic screams burrow into the urban web of ignorance that clothes us in prescription. This brings us to the album’s reigning highlight. “Kidnapped” is a tongue-in-cheek yet visceral autobiographical experiment about woman who is snatched away for the sole purpose of recording “that new-fangled…funny music with a beat” in ECM’s Ludwigsburg studio. Lask manages to keep pace with the boggling skitters and saxophonic squeals of Nicols, who stretches these enchantments well into “Should We, Geanie?” This speculative exercise in authoritarianism looks at social relations through a glass darkly as neither catalysts nor inhibitions, but rather as tattered newspapers stuffed into the human dichotomy, exploitable only through the vocal act. Thus does the stormy narrative of “Unknown Realms” transform maternity into ancestral longing. Here, the landscape is treated like an entity, a plane where inception is breathlessness, breathlessness is signal, and signal is song. Walking hand in hand with the “Poor Child,” we find a klezmer-like essay on worldly power and the lone citizen just trying to make ends meet on a puddle-splashed street corner. But when we pull our pockets out to cartoonish lengths, we find, as prophesied in “Too Much – Not Enough,” that the generative force of all meaning is its very emptiness.

Lask might seem like an anomaly in the ECM catalog, when really it stays true to the label’s ever-adventurous spirit. Dementia as the new art, or art as the new dementia? You decide.